On June 24, 2013, I drove to Boulder, sat down at a desk, opened my laptop and embarked upon a new journey.
Barokas PR came to Boulder with an idea. A vision to bring the community something different and ask them to look at PR in a new way – and they did. As I think back on the year, I’m taking it all in – what we’ve learned, how much we have accomplished. A year has passed, but we are only just beginning.
Colorado is doing amazing things and the energy is contagious. We dove right into the community as the TechStars Boulder PR mentor. This experience not only welcomed us into the community but also resulted in client partnerships and wonderful relationships. Following TechStars, we hosted a panel at Denver Startup Week and started an internship program through CU Boulder, which led to a recent full-time hire on our Colorado team.
The common theme throughout: think differently and look at PR as a strategic partner that can help you build, run and grow your business. By asking the community to look at PR through this lens, we opened doors for emerging companies to think about PR – many for the first time. We talked about this vision to The Boulder Daily Camera last summer.
To round out year 1, we are moving into a new home in Lower Downtown Denver, known locally as LODO. The space is the perfect complement to our Seattle office (the mothership) with a fun vibe, great energy and a blank pallet for us to make it all our own. We will now have a presence in Boulder and the heart of Denver.
Our team just finished reading Ben Horowitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He talks a lot about being in the moment and making decisions for where you are now. That is exactly what we are doing as we head into our second year.
When I moved up to Seattle from Southern California, part of what attracted me to this area was the opportunity to work in a tech savvy city that was on the verge of great things. After all, where’s the challenge working in a city like San Francisco that’s already been there, done that?
Last week’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award ceremony reminded me once again of all the reasons I moved here and am proud to call the Pacific Northwest home. For starters, the winner’s circle represented a who’s who of brands I use all the time including Talking Rain and Zulily. We also saw a healthy turnout of CEOs on the nominees list including ExtraHop Networks co-founders Jesse Rothstein and Raja Mukerj, and the CEO of buuteeq, Forest Key. But perhaps the most touching moment for me came during the acceptance speech from Monty Montoya, CEO of a company I had never heard of called, SightLife. They are a global non-profit dedicated to eliminating corneal blindness. Montoya’s heartfelt gratitude to his wife and family, and show of support from his table of teammates screams “winner” to me on multiple levels.
Like most other big city events, the ceremony had all the trademark characteristics of a star-studded gala including a dazzling New Year’s Eve style ballroom and Pharrell’s “Happy” song filling the room. The folks at our local EY office did an excellent job, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year and which other superstar CEOs will be up for the honor in our region.
From where I sit, I think Seattle has earned its stripes as a tech hotbed and we are only getting started. For others, like Quentin Hardy, the jury’s still out. In his recent NYT article Seattle, the New Center of a Tech Boom he states, “It’s too early to say if this concentration of big engineering talent is sustainable over the long haul and whether it will evolve into a flywheel of innovation like Silicon Valley. “ But, one thing everyone can agree upon is that the appetite for technology is unlike it’s ever been. And, the kinship between Seattle and Silicon Valley signals good times ahead for consumers and the tech community alike.
“Wherever you go, there are three icons that everyone knows: Jesus Christ, Pelé and Coca-Cola.”
When global soccer legend, Edison Arantes do Nascimento, more commonly known as Pelé uttered these words, he wasn’t kidding. Credited with bringing the passion of soccer to America and being the best soccer player of all time, Pelé is one of the world’s greatest and most widely regarded athletes. So naturally, when we were approached for the project, we couldn’t have been more thrilled to accept the challenge.
With many in our age group growing up playing soccer and knowing the legend that is Pelé, this project was cause for much excitement across the agency. This same enthusiasm could also be felt when we interacted with the media, as many of them grew up watching Pelé. So, what is TheRealPelé.com?
Last year Pelé’s daughter, Kely Nascimento, had the idea to give the world a glimpse of what Pelé’s life was like off the field, within his home amongst his friends and family. Beyond soccer, Kely wanted to share Pelé’s personal life with the millions of fans that helped make him the icon that he is today.
In early June, Kely, Pelé and CEO of Atari Fred Chesnais, launched TheRealPelé.com, a daily video blog that follows Pelé as he experiences the World Cup from his home country of Brazil. Airing in 50 countries worldwide, the video blog chronicles unprecedented access to Pelé’s journey during the 2014 World Cup. The series showcases Pelé watching the World Cup games, reaction to game outcomes, and his personal thoughts on teams, players and coaches.
Videos are uploaded daily, offering soccer enthusiasts an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into Pelé’s public appearances, his role as global ambassador for the sport, and his interactions with players, fans and sponsors.
With such high global visibility, we wanted to make sure TheRealPele.com showed up on America’s radar as a supplement to the viewing experience of the World Cup. Prior to this project, Pelé had never given interviews on his private life. It was important to Kely to gain national visibility for the docuseries that would shed light on her father’s personal experiences throughout the World Cup.
Kely discussed the docuseries and the premise for the website, and what it was like for Pelé having cameras follow him around all the time. Some of the top takeaways from the interviews were Pelé’s passion for his family, music, fishing, Women’s Soccer, and his pride in helping to bring the sport to the mainstream U.S. audience. When it came time for the interviews, one the most rewarding aspects of the project was getting to hear insights on the game from one of the greatest players of all time.
Saying that journalists and PR people have a love-hate relationship is like saying I watch too much trashy TV.
But lately there has been a lot of back and forth between people on the PR side and the journalist side, which was spurred by this post from Jennifer Pan. It’s worth a read, but she basically writes about why PR people (made up mostly of women, which raises gender bias questions in its own right) shouldn’t be so hated and publicly vilified by journalists because we’re just filling a natural “emotional labor” role in the machine.
Subsequently, a writer for Gawker (who regularly posts bad PR pitches on their site) responded to her post by saying that, despite sympathizing with the toils of PR, he still argues against the role of PR in general. He says that it is still just big corporations throwing their big bucks at buying friendly faces to distract or mislead the public into liking them.
OK, so he basically called the entire PR industry – made up of a lot of former journalists, I might add – a soulless illusionist show sponsored by major corporations. Still, he does feel bad that we (PR people) got stuck in this game where everyone yells at us and where we’re brainwashed into believing whatever we’re told.
Here’s the thing: we don’t deserve that sympathy. Yes, the hours and stress can be rough. Yes, it sucks when we spend hours researching reporters who we think would be interested in a story, only to get a “pass” (wait – actually, I’ll take a pass…it’s the total silence that really sucks). And, yes, it hurts our feelings when journalists view us as misleading telemarketers.
But why would we need sympathy when we get to call a startup CEO who has poured her heart and soul into her business and tell her that a major news outlet wants to cover her hard work and show how she’s helping people solve a common or expensive problem?
Why would we need sympathy when a reporter says, “yeah, that’s much cooler than what [insert big corporation here] has done”?
Why would we need sympathy when a local non-profit gets on the local news and sees a boost in the number of signatures they need to get their issue on the ballot, and them a little closer to making a difference?
Unfortunately, the Gawker piece only refers to cold, heartless corporations as the behind-the-curtain reason for such an empty, misleading industry. No mention of non-profits that might not describe PR as empty and misleading, but instead as “how we can build support that helps the communities we serve,” or the startups that might describe it as “how we can compete with our big corporate competitors without having the same deep pockets they have for expensive ad buys and marketing efforts.”
I know it’s easy to lump in PR people with the cigar-smoking lobbyists who are pulling the media’s puppet springs (OK, I’m just thinking of the John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd characters in The Campaign), but we’re not. And I’m sure a lot of lobbyists aren’t either (watch, now I start a beef between PR and lobbyists).
I’d say a majority of us are just trying to make sure journalists don’t miss out on stories that their readers might think are cool, that might solve a problem, that might make them think or that might make a difference.
Instead, put your sympathy toward the people who should know better than to announce publicly their embarrassing addiction to questionable TV…but do it quietly, I’m watching Real Housewives.
George Orwell wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” Yeesh, Orwell. We all know you were a tough critic of news and media, but this thinly veiled insult stings. If mighty Orwell has this opinion about my profession, this begs the question: how do journalists feel about PR?
Apparently I’m not the only one asking. Google “Journalists and PR” and you’ll find dozens of articles on the subject, ranging in tone from motivating “how to” lists to hostile diatribes. One of the better pieces written earlier this year by The Economist titled “Dear Flacks… Love Hack” compares the journalist-public relations relationship to a bribery negotiation. The author then lists common mistakes we PR flacks make when pitching our client’s news.
So what are these egregious errors? I’ll set aside typos because that is an error made by anyone and everyone, no matter the profession. However, the big mistake, mentioned in all of the advice and complaint articles, cannot be ignored: Pitching the wrong person. Also known as pitching the real estate guy when you want the tech gal. Also known as pitching anyone and everyone with the hope that someone will at least open your email and give you a chance. Also known as spam.
We all know spam is THE WORST. Peeling back the layers even further, this issue is actually about lack of research. There’s really no excuse. In this age of information, we have the ability to conduct outreach to any and all publications and their reporters, using any and all mediums (email, Twitter, phone, and on and on). In other words, if I know that Rob Kardashian didn’t attend the Kimye wedding, I sure as hell should know who writes about startups for The New York Times.
Another way to know whom to pitch is to create – wait for it – actual relationships with reporters. This is why I jumped at the chance to visit the KUOW/NPR studio last month. We were invited to spend a morning at their offices to learn about their team and audience. Did you know that 26 percent of people in charge of IT purchasing in the Puget Sound area listen to KUOW? By creating a rapport with reporters (and yes, even face to face relationships in the digital age), they will learn to trust our outreach and the stories we’re telling. Win-win-win.
Orwell also wrote, “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.” So maybe public relations isn’t at the bottom of his list. And if you play your pitch right, journalists will move you up on their list as well.
For the second year in a row, Barokas PR sponsored the TechCrunch Meetup and Pitch-Off in Seattle. While some of the ideas gave me flashbacks to the early 2000’s, there were a handful of companies that showed a lot of promise.
One of my favorites, and selected as the runner up by the judging panel, was Vet Commander, a company transforming the job seeking and hiring process for America’s vets. The company enables veterans to create a personal connection with an employer through a short video, allowing them to share their experiences beyond a static resume.
The winner of the evening was Essay Mentors, a service that supports students through all steps of the college essay writing process. Being a tech geek myself, I always appreciate the automation of tedious processes, and I’m sure every parent in the audience was drooling over the thought of a service that can help eliminate family feuds caused by the essay writing process.
And in what should come as no surprise to any Seattleite, Canary, a marijuana courier service, won the audience choice award. Canary was founded by two 19-year olds who showed up the rest of the presenters with a witty and enthusiastic 60-second pitch. Oddly enough, they are planning to launch later this year in the two markets where we have offices – Seattle and Denver. #Coincidence?
At the VC dinner prior to the Meetup, we had the opportunity to spend a little quality time with several TC reporters and local VCs. One of my favorite comments from the evening was made during a discussion about the enormous volume of email reporters receive each day. One reporter commented that if you search the word “revolutionary” you can delete about 90% of the pitches and press releases sent each day. AMEN. Revolutionary can joined “thrilled, pleased and excited” in the bucket of words that should be banned from pitches and press releases. If you can’t think of anything more original or compelling to say, then maybe you shouldn’t be saying it.
Now, lets see if I can find a service that automates blog post writing which reflects my own voice and style.
In the opening keynote speech of last night’s GeekWire Awards, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, said “Fortune favors the geeks.” Well, so does BPR. The sold-out event attracted Seattle’s best and brightest from the tech community – nominees and groupies alike – gathered together at EMP to celebrate our version of the Academy Awards. But with better food. The BPR RallySquad crashed the party to support our incredibly talented and nominated clients: buuteeq, ExtraHop, Airbiquity, Exo Labs and Builder’s Cloud.
Last night actually started March 25. This marked the day when GeekWire readers began to nominate individuals and companies in 13 categories ranging from the expected “CEO of the Year” to the quirky, “Geekiest Office Space.” The fun really began on April 15 when the community raced to vote for their favorites from a pool of five finalists per category, selected by a panel of tech-sperts.
buuteeq, a cloud-based digital marketing system for hotels, won the “Perk of the Year” for its $2,500 travel stipend it gives employees every year. (Howie?) CEO Forest Key told an impactful story about a fellow employee who had never been out of the United States and thanks to buuteeq, she was able to travel to Nepal. Perk of the Year? More like Perk of Your Life!
ExtraHop, the global leader in real-time wire data analytics for IT operational intelligence, won the “Innovation of the Year” award for its AWS Solution, a real-time tool designed to help accelerate IT organizations’ cloud transition and give companies running applications on AWS increased visibility and efficiency. Upon acceptance Raja Mukerji, president and co-founder, gave a shout-out, in true geek-fashion, to Star Wars’ Cloud City, an outpost above planet Bespin. We know that because we just looked it up.
The night was filled with Goonies references, hamburger sliders and chicken skewers (so were we), Converse shoes, Mensa cardholders, a few hoodies and some questionable leopard print fashion choices. Basically, it was a fantastic night for all involved. Congratulations to the winners, to the nominees, to the tech community, to the sponsors and to GeekWire.
Seattle will always be the Emerald City, but last night, it was Cloud City.
I have a confession: I loathe the term marketing. As a PR pro, this is a conflict I’ve been trying to resolve for my entire career.
Hearing the word makes my stomach sink. I can’t stand the way people – myself included – look when I say marketing. Eyes roll, a slight turn of the head or shoulder so they don’t catch “it” (the marketers disease), unavoidable expressions, perhaps a grumpy cat face, a slight shiver.
Notice I did not say: I hate marketing. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I love what marketing as an industry can achieve for a business. PR especially. As an industry, we have the ability to influence customer and business behavior, create or destroy markets. Unfortunately, it comes with a negative connotation that marketers ourselves have created over time with false promises and hot air. It’s a stereotype that we’ve yet to overcome. Drastic as it might sound, if this were only a personal opinion, I’d be writing about it on a personal blog.
This is a business matter, a disease (whether you’re infected or not) amongst the business community that is more contagious than swine flu. It’s reached consumers, business execs and journalists who’ve turned their eyes, ears and devices off to any form of communication that has even the softest tickle of marketing fluff. For you, who are likely a current or potential client, this is a big problem. For me as a PR pro, and my colleagues in PR or marketing, this is a HUGE problem. And together, we must stop it.
In the debut post for our “Ugh, Marketing” blog series, let’s pull the big ball of marketing fluff out of our…mouths, and stop sounding like marketers. Here are four phrases we should be ashamed of using:
1. Strategic public relations. Synonyms include strategic planning or strategic campaign. Public relations as a function should be strategic to your business. Putting ‘strategic’ in front of PR, or any other business function, won’t make it strategic.
2. Based on customer (or consumer) demand. While market opportunity is fundamental to business success, great customer validation lies in a publicly reference-able list of these customers – including their willingness to talk about your product and the benefits gleaned.
3. We differentiate by being faster, easier, and most effective. Any brand can define what faster, easier and most effective mean. Your differentiators should be unique – as in truly, I can’t get this from anyone else different. Make sure you’re not the only one (as my marketing friends would say) “drinking the Kool-Aid” – customers and analysts should be raising their glasses with you.
4. January 2014: Your Company Announces Yet-To-Be-Developed Product, Available in December 2015. Unless you’re Apple or Microsoft, the good idea from your last product meeting isn’t news yet. Talking about features/functionality that won’t be available for several months will not only will piss off your customers who want what they can’t have, it also puts what’s ‘under your kimono’ (a phrase that should probably retire) on full display for competitors.
There are plenty of phrases to be discontinued; this is by no means an all-inclusive list. And as an industry, marketing has much more to overcome. To be continued…
There are few individuals in this field of mine willing to admit – even for that moment, even for those few seconds when their hands freeze hesitantly, arthritic with self-doubt, above the keyboard – that PR can be a despairingly thankless profession. Do not misunderstand me – I’m not referring to recognition or praise from superiors and colleagues for a job well done. I speak of the never-to-be read pitches, stories, pre- and post-briefing announcements, the introductions to introductory pitches, the follow-ups and the secondary follow-ups and the tertiary follow-ups…all making their home in the junk mail of a blogger whose page my two-year old nephew could code and has a circulation even CisionPoint wouldn’t debase itself to recognize as anything but “not applicable.” It’s this of which I speak.
Briefly, of course. For those Seattle PR’ites looking down at the dark abyss under the Aurora Bridge, poised with your toes curled like a vice over the chilled, bespeckled iron, don’t jump just yet. I haven’t renewed your faith.
A few months ago, I found myself in front of my computer attempting to write Mitch, the owner of a house recently put up for sale. Earlier in the evening, two of my dearest friends informed me that they had fallen in love with the property and it was perfect for them and their two boys, and it had a yard, and a fireplace in the master bedroom, and a fantastic view, and an art studio, etc., etc. The house had been on the market for a day and it had already triggered a bidding war. I responded with the appropriate, “Wow, sounds nice. My entire apartment would fit in the garage and my view is an asphalt wasteland. Good luck with that!”
“We want you to write a letter to the seller and convince him to let us buy the house.” Hmm…I was to write a letter (in their voice) to convince someone I’d never met to select my friends to buy a house I’d never seen? “Aerin, you’re a writer. You can write. Write it!” The level of paranoia in her voice was beginning to make me a little uncomfortable. “Make us cool. You can make us cool. Remember, Mitch is an Artist. We have corporate jobs – we’re just titles on a page. Make us…” I waited for further direction before realizing that I wasn’t going to get any. “Real. You want me to make you real.”
I asked them to each write down five adjectives and their official corporate titles. Then I took my dog for a walk. For any individual reading this who has ever experienced writer’s block, I have this advice: Get a dog. Over feed him. Take him for a walk. By the time you arrive home with five bags of dog shit in your hands, trust me, you’ll have a different perspective on life.
To be clear, I will never consider myself a writer. Steinbeck was a writer, Fitzgerald was a writer, Rushdie is a writer. I spell phonetically and was 17 before I realized that my “oops” was spelled “opps.” Opps. Flaws aside, I am in love with the written word. When used correctly, words can bring down empires, establish religions, forge laws and catalyze revolutions. Words can also get your client a feature in the New York Times, an article in Fortune, on the road to getting acquired or prepped for an IPO. In some very rare cases, words can get your friends a house.
Remember: Me and you – we wield a powerful wand. In PR, we use words to tell stories, to create and share ideas, to amuse and subtly cajole. We bring the human element, utilizing words to make an otherwise flat idea or person colorful, substantial and relevant. It’s not about luck – it’s about skill.
My friends were outbid by more than $100,000 but they got the house anyway. They move next month. Apparently, the owner really, really liked their letter.
A week ago, I relived my college days at Washington State University – although, instead of a dorm I stayed in a hotel. And rather than going to the main strip of college bars, my friend and I went to the “grownup” bar in town to grab a drink after dinner since she works for admissions. Discrepancies aside, I felt right at home! The reason for my trip was WSU’s Murrow Symposium to speak to a group of soon-to-be college graduates about what PR life is like after college. My main take away, other than a great pool of intern candidates, was a lesson on perspective.
My favorite movie quote on “perspective” comes from an exchange between the wise Hermione Granger and Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Hermione said, “We didn’t celebrate your birthday, Harry. Ginny and I…we’d prepared a cake.” To which Harry replied, “Hermione…I appreciate the thought, honestly. But given that we were almost killed by a couple of Death Eaters a few minutes ago…,” prompting Hermione to elicit my now daily mantra, “Right. Perspective.”
There’s nowhere better than your alma mater to realize how much life has changed since graduation – and in the most unlikely ways. I’ve been fortunate to find a workplace that fosters learning and growth at such an early stage of my career. If you would’ve asked me where I’d be living after graduation the LAST place I would’ve said is Seattle, even though, according to Gallup’s annual ranking, it’s the thirty-second happiest and healthiest city in America!
As I happily shared my new-found knowledge with the WSU students, it dawned on me how much I have actually learned in the last eighteen months! Going about my day-to-day activities is one thing, but it’s another to recap almost a year-and-a-half of activities in one hour. I touched on my clients, and how business-to-business (B2B) compares to business-to-consumer (B2C), a topic that seemed to elicit the most interest! We also discussed the importance of social media being used strategically for your clients. Most importantly I offered several tips for job searching. My main piece of advice was to be yourself, and be open to trying new things – whoever thought I’d be working with enterprise technology startups? Not me, but I LOVE it!
Although I’ve been on a fast learning curve, I’m looking forward to experiencing even greater opportunities for growth as my clients announce new products, funding, acquisitions, and (hopefully) much more!
Shameless plug: If you’re interested in becoming a Barokas PR intern/employee contact us here, or email email@example.com – we’d love to meet you!